Incumbents win borough seats

Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2004

All three incumbents won re-election to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Tuesday's municipal election, but voters tended to split on several propositions on the ballot.

Pete Sprague of Soldotna handily defeated challengers Fred Sturman and Michael Swan for Assembly District 4. Sprague got 599 votes to Sturman's 159 and Swan's 167.

Paul Fischer had no trouble outpolling Mark Osterman in the District 7 contest, winning with a margin of 233 votes, 511 to 278.

As expected, the District 3 contest between incumbent Gary Superman and challenger James Price, both of Nikiski, was a real race and a victor was not known until into the late evening. Superman, however, pulled out to a 672-593 lead once all five precincts reported.

In the races for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, incumbent Lorraine "Sammy" Crawford won re-election to a one-year term in Seat 1, defeating challenger Gene Dyson by about a two-to-one margin, 604 to 310.

Also winning election to the board in uncontested races were Sandra P. Wassilie of Seward, who won a three-year term in Seat 6, and Edith-Helen "Sunni" Hilts of Seldovia, who won a two-year term in Seat 9.

Proposition 1, which asked voters if they wanted to grant the assembly the power to increase the level of property tax exemption on primary residences from the current $10,000 to as much as $20,000 passed easily, garnering 6,590 votes to 2,405.

The assembly still must take action to make an increased exemption law, and if confronted with a strained budget could opt not to do so.

Voters in Nikiski were asked to decide three measures with property tax implications for that region.

Proposition 2, a controversial measure that would have created a Nikiski Law Enforcement Service Area was soundly defeated by almost two to one -- 849 to 454.

Nikiski voters also cast ballots on two other highly divisive issues concerning the powers and future activities of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area.

Proposition 3, which, among other things, would have truncated the power of the service area board and prevented it from funding acquisition of the old Nikiski Elementary School building and turning it into a community center, also lost, though the margin was closer, 687 to 612.

Nikiski's Proposition 4, however, passed, 784-516. It limits the amount the service area may commit to a capital improvement project without first going to the voters to just $500,000. The previous level was $1.5 million.

The net result effectively produces some of the conditions Proposition 3 would have set -- that is, because the school building acquisition is likely to cost upward of $1 million or more, the board will have to go back to the voters for approval if they wish to proceed.

"The results pretty much are in line with what I expected to happen out here," Superman said. "But it could have gone the other way just as easily. They worked hard on their side. I campaigned hard myself. I put everything on the line out here."

Except for the law enforcement service area idea, the split results demonstrate that the community remains divided on issues, he said, adding that his opponents successfully hung the police proposition on his back, though he said he had only forwarded the proposition to the ballot at the request of residents who earlier this year had been the victims of a string of burglaries.

He agreed that passions for some kind of police action cooled over the intervening months as the reality of increased property taxes dawned.

As to Propositions 3 and 4, Superman said he thought many voters simply didn't understand the implications of the two measures. Reducing the commitment cap to $500,000 could "put a harness" on efforts to gather and spend grant money for future projects, he said.

"We're going to have to deal with that," he said.

Price said he was pleased at the defeat of Proposition 2 calling it "a bad idea" that would have shifted the cost of public safety on to Nikiski taxpayers.

"Supporters said it was advisory, but I didn't agree with that assessment. Never before have I heard of a service area being created that didn't levy a tax. It was another layer of bureaucracy and an attempt toward incorporation," he said.

He called Propositions 3 and 4 "appropriate responses" to a board that was unwilling to allow a public vote on the community center proposal.

"At least with Proposition 4 passing, it appears the people will have a chance to vote, unless the board somehow lowers the cost (of the community center) to under $500,000 and gets its nose under the tent," Price said. "Basically, I'm happy the people will have an opportunity to vote. That was my goal all along."

As to his own race against Superman, Price said he was disappointed he lost. He said his campaign had been "based on the recognition of reality that available funds are limited and diminishing."

Meanwhile, two other propositions sought to expand fire services to outlying areas around Soldotna.

Propositions 5 and 6 asked voters in the Funny River area and those in the Kasilof-Cohoe-Clam Gulch area, respectively, if they wanted fire-fighting services extended to those areas under the Central Emergency Services Area.

However, passage of the propositions also required approval from voters inside the existing service area. Voters in all areas overwhelmingly approved the expansions.

Sprague said it was good that residents of the service area and the proposed expansion areas got their chance to vote on the issue.

"Obviously, they want fire protection," he said.

As to his own victory in the assembly race, Sprague said, "It seems to me the electorate is satisfied with direction of the borough, and I'm pleased with results, obviously."

Voter approval of Proposition 1 was no surprise, he added, but it is no guarantee the assembly will actually vote to up the property tax exemption.

"At budget time, we'll have to see what the budget projections are and take appropriate action," he said.

Fischer made similar comments, saying his victory showed that people were mostly satisfied with the direction the assembly has taken.

"In my own case, I've always felt strongly that the constituents, the people, are what we are there for," he said.

Fischer said he would continue to focus on fiscal responsibility and thinks it was his experience that led voters to prefer him to his challenger, Mark Osterman, who campaigned against the current level of spending.

Fischer said the assembly would have to "look harder" at spending and that in an era of tight budgets, perhaps curtail spending on programs it is not mandated to do.

He also said he would continue to push the assembly toward having fewer afternoon work sessions preceding regular meetings, feeling that more of those proceedings should happen at night when there is radio coverage and residents can attend the regular meetings.

"We owe it to the listeners to do things in such a way that they can understand what's going on," he said.

Sammy Crawford said her victory in the school board race left her feeling pretty good Tuesday night.

"I like to think the voters thought experience and continuity of service is important," she said. "I'd like to thank all the people who supported me. I'll do my best to serve them well."

Crawford said she'd made a lot of phone calls, put ads in the paper and erected some 15 yard signs in her effort to be re-elected to the school board. But she said she found it a bit frustrating to think that elections often come down to simple name recognition. She and her opponent, Gene Dyson, also met face-to-face in two candidate forums and appeared on one radio talk show.

"It all helps to remind voters about who you are and that you put up signs and make the extra effort," she said.

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